Making a mark
Regional branding programs promote traceable local seafood from sustainable fisheries
By Linc Bedrosian
The real-estate mantra "location, location, location" is now a cornerstone of a new trend in seafood. Regional branding programs emphasize the local nature of the seafood fishermen catch, the path it takes from boat to plate and the fishery's sustainability.
"What we hear from the market is that people are willing to pay for and are interested in local," says Donald W. Perkins, president and chief executive officer of the Portland, Maine-based Gulf of Maine Research Institute, which recently introduced its Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested branding program. The program aims to establish a sense of place for species harvested or grown and processed in the Gulf of Maine and requires participants to adhere to standards for sustainability and traceability.
"There's greater consumer awareness," says Dane Somers, executive director of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council. "Giving them clear labeling that details the product's origin and traceability, you see the consumers respond to that."
Alaska's salmon fishery is a good example of how branding can fuel demand. A glut of farmed, imported salmon emerged on the market in the early 1990s, depressing dock prices and dampening demand for Alaska's signature fish.
But the state developed a strategy to regain market share. By 2002 the salmon industry began touting its product's uniqueness, spotlighting the regions where the salmon were caught and the pristine environment from which they were harvested. Wild Alaska salmon regained favor in restaurants and retail operations, and in consumers' hearts and stomachs.
Today, regional branding programs for fisheries large and small hope to achieve similar success.
According to NOAA, 84 percent of seafood consumed in the United States is imported; foreign aquaculture accounts for about half that amount.
"We're all being challenged by the flood of imports," Somers says.
Those imports have resulted in a $9 billion trade deficit in seafood, NOAA says. They have also kept dock prices for product like Gulf of Mexico shrimp in a prolonged funk and, in the era of $4 per gallon fuel, kept shrimpers dockside.
Efforts to establish regional brands aim to get U.S. consumers eating more domestic seafood — and eat into the share of American seafood consumption that imports have grabbed.
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